Venetian Lunatics

Dio mio. It had been raining for a week now on St. Mark’s Square. The acqua alta arrived two weeks ahead of schedule to the great befuddlement of provincial forecasters, ruining the hopes of so many heavily selfie-sticked American tourists. Placid reflective waters rolled over the plaza marble like an infinity pool of mercury, perfectly delineating the expansive quadrant that included the Basilica and its famed Campanile.

As if the geometric perfection of the anomaly weren’t strange enough, the rest of San Marco remained sunny, along with every other sestiere in the city. Cannaregio, Giudecca, Castello… not a cloud in the god-loving sky. The afternoon’s weather report even showed a crystal blue dome over the otherwise rainy Julian Alps. In fact, the entire country sat basking in the fall sun, but one fucking platonically rectangular cloud pissed torrentially over the very location of so many holiday dreams. Between Italy’s meteorologists and the foreign embassies, a secret was being protected, whatever this was, and the crowds were putting their money on the fallout effects of a religious war raging in the Middle East. So there’s the silver lining: no crowds. Sounds like chemical warfare to me, hon.


Bucking the fears of his countrymen, one middle-aged American stood alone and unmoved by the rainwater pouring down around him. He’d like to think of himself as a non-conformist, but maybe an opportunistic one: Italian beer might taste better if he didn’t have to wait in line for it. So there he was, sipping quietly from a large bottle of Moretti, his eyes fixed on the Basilica domes. Something was definitely amiss here. A Philly native, he’d heard his share of Italian clichés, but the one about the country’s suicidal wildlife… that was news to him. One by one, the pigeons taking refuge on the statuettes began diving violently into the rising pool. Constellations of the already drowned could be seen drifting limply to the center of the square, joining the circus of detritus that began forming around the Campanile: unoccupied café tables and chairs, cheap toy helicopters and faux Gucci bags, candy wrappers and restaurant receipts, a cheap replica of Venus de Milo. Even the man himself – tethered safely to his Moretti in one hand, his travel satchel in the other – began floating gently from his footing. The splash of pigeons continued around him with the regularity of church bells.

As the sun set, the moon didn’t rise so much as materialize dun dun duuuun above the Basilica like the aliens’ craft of destruction above the White House in Independence Day. By this point, the pool had risen to cataclysmic heights above the Palazzo Ducale, its reliquaries of saintly flesh and imperial trophies of past Adriatic conquests now floating out from the gilded hallways and up through the diluvian column, a towering wet mass of history and refuse. From this height the man could see across San Marco toward the lights of the Santa Lucia train station and Rialto Bridge, where he last saw his wife and son. Perhaps I’ve wandered too deeply into the maze of Venetian calle, he thought, recalling with some embarrassment the note he had written himself. Reaching into his breast pocket, he found the hotel address smeared incomprehensibly in blue ink. Well, that’s that. Beats the shit smell of the Cannaregio B&B anyways. He had only wanted the emptiness of the piazza for a moment of solitude and possible communion with the city’s Byzantine mysteries, not that he totally understood the “Byzantine” thing apart from his know-it-all son’s fancy bullshit description, but now it dawned on him: he was not only lost, but a shamefully lost tourist. The man could imagine his son’s disappointment; he had been warned of this very possibility, his son fearing less his own embarrassment and inconvenience than the damage to his father’s characteristically middle-aged American pride.


Let’s look at the bright side. Sure, the moon has entered the Earth’s atmosphere within striking distance of a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Carabinieri had enforced a state of emergency, and fine, he was drifting in a what the fuck is this wall of rain, the physics of which would have Galileo rolling in his marble grave at Santa Crost…Croce? (Jesus, I was just there. What was it called?) Ma donna wouldn’t it be lovely to spend a night here alone, at peace in his private loft above the enchanted city? He’d had about enough of his wife and son touring him around the city like an ignorant high school field tripper anyway, doubting his health at every step with their annoying how you doin’, Dads and ya alright, hons? What’s one night out here on his own? He’d seen weirder in his Paratrooper days after all. Close your eyes. Fall to sleep. Let the dentures slip the gums…

At last, the man received his moment of peace in a weightless, dreamless sleep. But a moment is all. The balance of gravity suddenly tipped into the moon’s favor and with a jolt, the man was awakened by an explosive propulsion into the satellite’s luminescent void. Panic began to swell as his lungs seized from the shock. The terrible sensation of choking-passing out-dying tickled the back of his head, but the moon was now within reaching distance. It carried him upwards with its gravity into a slow orbit above the Basilica. He took grip of a small crater and swung his body onto the lunar surface. The cold rarified atmosphere flooded his lungs at once, carrying all sensation back through his body with a rush of blood. Shhhhhhhh…. A deep, calming silence settled into the air around him. He was confused, scared, exhausted with recourse to nothing but the safety on the inside of his eyelids. He clenched his eyes shut and imagined himself a refugee of Gothic terrors, at home among the founders of Venice who would lay the first wooden planks into the lagoon’s depths. Wouldn’t he, too, be at home in these alien surroundings, a builder-refuge from his domestic frustrations, constant foreboding, the mortality of his earthly body? Of course, they would assume the worst, pack their bags and let the American Embassy do the rest.

As the moon continued its orbit out of the Venetian sky, the man recalled a story, something his son had read*, that the moon cultivated its own Philadelphia Cream Cheese ™ from a naturally occurring source of moon-milk. Vabeh! That would do just fine. Arriverderci, amici. Ci vediamo. Ciao! And just like that, the man thought, I’m home now.


*(Calvino, 1968)

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